Financial abuse is a serious form of abuse that involves using money as a means to dominate, control, and harm someone. Though this type of abuse can be overt in nature, a covert financial abuser will often conceal their deviancy in order to control and inflict great financial destruction on their victim. Covert financial abuse can be so hidden that a victim may not even be aware they are being financially abused. It’s often not until indiscretions pile up so high that they become unearthed through various ways, such as notices from solicitors, calls from collection agencies, rejected debit and credit cards, or even summons delivered by a police officer. Sadly, by the time those things happen, there are usually devastating impacts, both short and long-term, for a victim. Not only that, but financial abuse is often a key factor that keeps a victim trapped in an abusive relationship much longer than they would choose.
“Financial abuse occurs in 98% of abusive relationships and is the number one reason victims stay in or return to abusive relationships.”
If financial abuse is often hidden or covert, how can someone recognize signs of financial abuse? Though not an all-inclusive list, below are six tactics of financial abuse and steps a victim can take to protect themselves.
6 TACTICS OF FINANCIAL ABUSE
1. CONTROLLING FINANCES
A financial abuser will often control all financial decisions without consideration of the victim’s thoughts or desires. Essential details are usually not fully disclosed to the victim, if they are even disclosed at all. A financial abuser will often restrict or impinge a victim’s access to their whole financial picture, access to cash, and access to bank accounts and other financial records.
Examples of Controlling Finances Could Be:
- Having a joint bank account where the abuser monitors spending
- Assigning the victim an “allowance” without input or agreement
- Raging about every purchase, no matter how small or necessary
- Manipulatively using finances as “payment” after forcing a victim to have unwanted sex
- Withholding financial information, passwords, and account numbers
- Keeping secret bank accounts or investments
- Cheating through things like tax evasion
- Acting entitled to your money
- Restricting finances at a whim
- Using anger to silence and intimidate when discussing finances
- Demanding that a victim turns over their paycheck, passwords, and credit cards
- Having a double standard when it comes to spending
- Dragging out divorce proceedings to cripple a victim financially
2. SABOTAGING FINANCES
A narcissist may sabotage a victim’s ability to make and save money. They might do this by causing the victim to lose their job due to frequently making them late for work or chronically needing them to leave early for an “emergency.” They may also sabotage a victim’s credit report by applying for credit cards without the victim’s knowledge, maxing them out, and never paying them off. A narcissist may also purposely get fired to avoid paying child support if a victim decides to leave the relationship and will often work under the table to hide their true income.
Examples of Sabotaging Finances Could Be:
- Lying that they paid a bill but never actually did
- Agreeing to a budget and then breaking that agreement causing unnecessary hardship
- Coercing a victim to give up their financial independence or quit their job
- Having hidden accounts and credit cards
- Sabotaging their work responsibilities or ability to hold a job
3. RECKLESSLY USING FINANCES
A narcissist will often strictly control or limit the spending ability of their victim while usually being either stingy or financially impulsive and reckless. Family budgets or financial plans previously agreed upon are often not honored as a narcissist rarely keeps their commitment, and their desires usually trump all. Always keeping a victim on their toes by keeping finances unstable is a favorite weapon of an abuser to keep drama and chaos at the forefront, robbing a victim of security and peace.
Examples of Recklessly Using Finances Could Be:
- Secretly sending money
- Deciding to save up for a big purchase only to find they purchased it on credit
- Spending money on addictions (sexual addictions, gambling, drugs)
- Opening credit cards in your children’s name, ruining their credit while young
- Refusing to pay taxes
- Lying about finances
4. CHRONICALLY LACKING FINANCES
Just like the Charlie Brown character named Pig Pen, there seems to be a dust cloud of unease and chaos that surrounds a financial abuser. Lack of financial honesty and transparency, coupled with reckless behavior, often plague a victim of abuse with a chronic lack of financial means. They do this through various ways, such as being so reckless with money that they push the sole weight of earning money and paying the bills onto the victim, all while going behind their back to spend money or rack up credit card debt secretly. Others may hold a steady job but refuse to advance in their career or take on a second job if needed to keep a perpetual spiral of poverty and lack.
Examples of Chronically Lacking of Finances Could Be:
- Money seems to disappear
- Cash is withdrawn without the victim’s knowledge
- Money secretly spent
- Bills left unpaid
- Financial emergencies that could have been avoided
- Refusing to work or making excuses about why they can’t
- Stealing money from a victim or their children’s savings account without their knowledge or consent
5. GASLIGHTING ABOUT FINANCES
Gaslighting is the psychological manipulation of a person over an extended period that causes a victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence, and uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, to cause a dependency on the perpetrator. A financial abuser will often use financial gaslighting to either manipulate their victim out of any control over finances or always to keep them stuck in financial instability.
Examples of Gaslighting About Finances Could Be:
- “I’m better at handling finances.”
- “This is just the way things are done.”
- “This was how my family always handled finances.”
- “You know that you’re not good with money.”
- “You are forgetful, so I want to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.”
- “I don’t want you to have to deal with the stress of finances; just let me take care of everything so you don’t have to.”
Gaslighting About Finances Could Also Be:
- Offering to help “relieve a victim’s stress” by solely taking over the budget or financial decisions to gain sole control.
- Withdrawing a large amount of cash, not telling the victim what it was spent on, and then blaming the victim for withdrawing and spending it.
- Making a big financial purchase without telling the victim after mutually agreeing not to make the purchase, only to turn around and act shocked, sullen, or angry when the victim is not excited about the purchase.
6. TRACKING FINANCES
A financial abuser often limits, tracks, and monitors every cent a victim spends. This is often paired with tracking a victim’s car mileage, social media use, phone use, and the victim’s whereabouts. iPhone tags are also often used to track the victim, even unlawfully and secretly, post-separation or divorce.
Examples of Tracking Finances Could Be:
- Criticizing a victim every time they spend a penny
- Creating confusing and lengthy budgeting sheets
- Demanding every receipt and obsessing over them
- Limiting a victim’s access to debit and credit cards
- Starting chronic arguments over money that never have a resolution
- Piggybacking an alternate alias onto a victim’s Apple ID to have full access to their cell
HOW A VICTIM CAN PROTECT THEMSELVES
The impact of financial abuse can have devastating and long-lasting effects. If a victim chooses to leave the relationship, the implications can still derail and damage them for a long time. Even if a court does order damages to be paid for by the abusive spouse, many times, this isn’t a way to truly enforce that, especially if the abuser purposely gets fired or works under the table to avoid paying restitution. If someone suspects they are experiencing financial abuse, I highly suggest they take steps to protect themselves and their financial future. Below are some ways that a victim can protect themselves from financial abuse.
Practical Steps to Protect Against Financial Abuse:
- The first step is to trust God to protect and lead you
- Reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Develop a safety plan
- Make copies of all financial records and keep them in a secure place
- Make a list and take photos of all the assets you own together
- Sign up for a credit monitoring service and get a copy of your credit report
- Protect your financial assets with a separate savings account
- Put two-factor authentication on your savings account to ensure only you have access
- Set up automatic notifications with your bank if there are any changes to your password
- Talk to a trusted friend or family member about keeping copies of your financial documents
- Open a safety deposit box for your documents if you feel unsafe asking friends or family
- Make sure there are no tracking devices on your Apple ID, other cell devices, car, or personal belongings
- Frequently change your online passwords
THERE IS HOPE
If you are experiencing financial abuse in your relationship, I’d encourage you to reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. While you don’t need to make any sudden moves today, talking to a safe person can help clarify what you are experiencing and solidify any next steps you may take to protect yourself from financial abuse. I am praying for God to expose every area of financial abuse in your life. May He lead, guide, protect, and give you great wisdom.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” – James 1:5 NIV